Take This Bread #6

“Once or twice a week, we’d feed people who came to the kitchen door.  We stole food for ourselves fairly constantly, and we slipped extra food to the kitchen staff, so we saw nothing wrong with spreading around some of the excess.  There were a couple of street guys who’d stop by, and I’d fix them a plate: the day’s special, some cut-up potatoes  or a bowl of chili, a couple of pieces of leftover cheesecake.  I like watching them eat, balancing the plate on their knees on our back stoop, wiping their mouths politely on the paper towel I gave them.  It made more sense to me than the waste did, the huge barrels of soft vegetables, half-eaten chickens, meat trimmings, stale bread, spoiled milk . . .

The men at the door reminded me that there were worlds parallel to the world of restaurants . . .”

 

What stands out about this excerpt?

 

Sara Miles describes the ‘street guys’ with a dignity, “politely wiping their mouth” — why do you think that is an important description?

 

What do you think she means when she writes, “worlds parallel to the world of restaurants?”  She goes on to describe many more “worlds” that she is living in.  What “worlds” have you most recently become a ware of beyond your own?

 

Miles ends the chapter contrasting her appreciation of food with that of her brothers.

 

“Food remained something central for me, but I couldn’t articulate why . . . Like David, I could taste well, and specific flavors were full of meaning; unlike him, I wasn’t driven to make sense of the world through creating and interpreting those meanings.  I was messier than my brother, and lazier, and I wanted something more direct, spoken less in the specialized language of gastronomy than in the ancient language of welcome.  I had no idea then that what I was hungry for was communion.”

 

What have you “hungered” for that you didn’t recognize until later?

 

 

 

 

Take This Bread – Solidarity (#5)

I learned solidarity, the kind that only comes through shared bodily experience, sweating and lifting and hauling side by side with others.  I learned from watching customers that the rituals of even the plainest or most cynically prepared dinner could carry unconscious messages of love and comfort.  And at the end of a rush, when I sat down with the kitchen staff and waiters, I learned how central food is to creating juan community, what eating together around a table can do.  As a wise bishop would tell me, years and years later, in words I couldn’t possibly have grasped back then, “There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food, and that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.” – Take This Bread, Sara Miles

 

  • SOLIDARITY – When have you been aware of the powerful experience of ‘shared bodily experience?’

  • In your experience, what can eating together around a table do?

  • What do you think Miles is talking about when she writes, “there’s hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food?”

 

 

 

 

Take This Bread #4

When I was eighteen, never thinking once about my missionary heritage, I wrapped a toothbrush in my favorite cotton skirt, stuck it in a should bag, and took a train from a dusty Texas border town to Mexico City, sitting upright on a wooden bench for the three-day journey.  I was embarking on a pilgrimage of sorts, though I never would have thought of it that way at the time: I’d enrolled in a tiny radical college founded by internationalist Quakers and communists.  All I knew about Quakers was that they were mostly old and had bravely opposed the Vietnam War; I thought basically the same about communists.  Like most of my friends, my passionate left-wing sentiments about civil rights or the women’s movement or Third World poverty or colonialism were felt, not studied, and our grasp of history was shaky.  But the great worldwide upheavals of 1968 had riled us up, inspired us, stamped the phrase “power to the people” into our consciousness, and we were eager to plunge into activism.  I didn’t know, then, of the changes similarly sweeping through the Catholic Church that would turn so many of my Latin American Christian contemporaries into revolutionaries.

I didn’t understand how my own general beliefs–that the poor should be lifted up, prisoners freed, wars ended, and justice done–echoed biblical imperatives.  I was just excited to begin.

– and excerpt from Chapter One – Pilgrimage – by Sara Miles

 

  • Over the meal, share some of your first experiences in understanding God cares about the poor and injustice.
  • How have you been surprised — or others you’ve known — to find out about God’s concern for the least, last, and lost (the marginalized)?
  • What other aspects of who you are knowing God to be would you think many people are unaware of?  Just as Sara Miles had no idea her convicts about injustice mirrored biblical imperatives — what other aspects of the Christian Faith go, more or less, misunderstood or ignored?

 

 

Take This Bread #3

familytable

 

 

Chapter One is entitled, The Family Table.  Miles recounts her background and perspectives of growing up in her family.  Her grandparents were missionaries, but her parents saw the church as “neither an adventure nor a calling.  While my parents cherished memories of stars in the desert, elephants, tropical rainstorms, and dates, the repressed, small-town American churches both families returned to when their children were you were suffocating,” writes Miles.

 

 

 

 

“My parents’ atheism proclaimed this world, in its physical beauty and fascinating human complexity, as what mattered.  We believed them.  My sister, Ellen, loved music and books; my brother, David, and I learned to cook; by the time I was in tenth grade, I knew how to grill a fish and bake a crunchy baguette.  We all soaked up experience: sex, travel, drugs, food, hard physical work—anything that would take us further into the sensual, immediate world that my parents insisted was the opposite of religion.” – page 9

 

 

 

  • Over our meal, share some key parts of your “Family Table.”
  • How was your “Family Table” similar to or contrasted to Miles environment?
  • What has your experience of the relationship to life in church / following Christ and “the sensual”?  How would you like for the connection to the sensual and your holistic faith look like?
  • How has Convergence been helpful in reestablishing such a connection?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take This Bread #2

Week Two:

In regard to the bolded text below (in the prologue):

  • What strikes you about Miles description of the faith she found?
  • She describes the dinner table with the words, “ordinary” and “subversive” – Why do you think Convergence puts such an emphasis on sharing meals?
  • What have been some of your most memorable moments around a dinner table?

 

From the Prologue of Sara Miles, Take this Bread

. . . My new vocation didn’t turn out to be as simple as going to church on Sundays, folding my hands in the pews and declaring myself ‘saved.’ Nor did my volunteer church work mean talking kindly to poor folks and handing them the occasional sandwich from a sanctified distance. I had to trudge in the rain through housing projects, sit on the curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man, take the firing pin out of a battered woman’s .357 Magnum, then stick the gun in a cookie tin in the trunk of my car. I had to struggle with my atheist family, my doubting friends, and the prejudices and traditions of my new-found church. I learned about the great American scandal of the politics of food, the economy of hunger, and the rules of money. I met thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters and bishops, all blown into my life through the restless power of a call to feed people, widening what I thought of as my ‘community’ in ways that were exhilarating, confusing, often scary.

Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian, a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism. I’m not the person my reporter colleagues ever expected to see exchanging blessings with street-corner evangelists. I’m hardly the person George Bush had in mind to be running a ‘faith-based charity.’ My own family never imagined that I’d wind up preaching the Word of God and serving communion to a hymn-singing flock.

But as well as an intimate memoir of personal conversion, mine is a political story. At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn’t about angels, or going to church, or trying to be ‘good’ in a pious, idealized way. It wasn’t about arguing a doctrine — the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce — or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honored.

And so I became a Christian, claiming a faith that many of my fellow believers want to exclude me from; following a God my unbelieving friends see as archaic superstition. At a time when Christianity in America is popularly represented by ecstatic teen crusaders in suburban megachurches, slick preachers proclaiming the ‘gospel’ of prosperity, and shrewd political organizers who rail against evolution, gay marriage and stem-cell research, it’s crucial to understand what faith actually means in the lives of people very different from one another. Why would any thinking person become a Christian? How can anyone reconcile the hateful politics of much contemporary Christianity with Jesus’ imperative to love? What are the deepest ideas of this contested religion, and what do they mean in real life?

In this book I look at the Gospel that moved me, the bread that changed me and the work that saved me, to begin a spiritual and an actual communion across the divides.

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